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John Ruch Posted by on May 15, 2017.

Sandy Springs draft zoning code refines parking, gas station concepts

Parking space requirements for cars – and bicycles. Strategies for limiting gas stations. Lots and lots of map changes.

Those are a few of the many changes and refinements in the latest draft of Sandy Springs new zoning code, presented by officials at a May 15 City Hall open house.

Lee Einsweiler of Code Studios explains some of the Sandy Springs Development Code concept refinements at a May 15 City Hall meeting. (John Ruch)

The new “Development Code” is a work in progress – a final draft is due around mid-June and possible adoption in August – and citywide in scope. So the open house provided a snapshot of some key changes at the current moment.

Lee Einsweiler of Austin, Texas-based Code Studio is the lead consultant who has been writing the new code for over a year. As more than 50 residents gathered, he gave an overview of proposed zoning strategies on such citywide subjects as parking, landscaping, lighting, commercial signage and the treatment of city streets.

However, most people crowded into a separate room where the latest zoning maps of individual properties were on display. Einsweiler said there has been an “enormous number of changes to the map” since earlier drafts. While all of the changes are small, typically affecting single properties, some were due to errors and may require revision of the already approved “Character Area Map” in the new Comprehensive Plan, the land-use plan on which the zoning code is based.

Einsweiler and other officials recommended that residents look carefully at their property’s proposed zoning. High-resolution versions of the map are available on the city’s “Next Ten” planning website at thenext10.org. Residents can submit comments about any part of the code via a form on that website or by emailing TheNextTen@sandyspringsga.gov.

‘New and different’ affordability concepts                                     

Affordable housing incentives or requirements were among the many other concepts in the works but not part of the presentation. An earlier Development Code draft included a proposed formula for incentivizing “workforce,” or middle-income-affordable, housing. However, that formula drew some criticism as confusing and insufficient. Einsweiler indicated in a brief interview that a significant revision is underway.

The zoning code rewrite team has “something new and different coming” on the affordable housing aspect, he said. “We are looking at ways to provide more affordable multifamily [housing].”

No ‘grandfathering’

Another big-picture policy item not discussed in the presentation is the fate of unbuilt or partially built plans based on previously approved rezonings that become outdated under the new code. Some previous comments from Einsweiler and the mayor and City Council have indicated those old plans may get wiped off the board. In both public and one-on-one questions at the May 15 meeting, developers and attorneys who make a living representing them asked about the issue of unbuilt or partially built projects. While Einsweiler indicated it remains to be seen how that will shake out, he did note the code aims to have strong leverage at every point.

He said the new code will not be “grandfathering” existing uses that don’t match the new code. Instead, they will be labeled “nonconforming uses.” It’s a difference in more than jargon. “Grandfathered” suggests the use is OK, Einswieler said, which is “a little more gracious” than the city intends to be. “Nonconforming,” on the other hand, means the use can’t be expanded or extended and it is “hoped it will go away over time.”

Parking

Parking requirements for both motor vehicles and bicycles were one item getting a lot of attention in the new draft. Most commercial uses would require a certain amount of motor vehicle parking, working from a base standard of 1 parking space per 300 square feet. That ratio would apply to new construction, changes in use or additions of over 25,000 square feet. And the ratio would vary based on the type of use –restaurants need more parking than bookstores, for example – and could be lowered for such uses as transit-oriented projects, affordable housing, senior housing and developments that provide car-sharing spaces.

Bicycle parking would be required in multifamily, public/civic, commercial and industrial zones, also with a certain ratio, but no more than 20 spaces per development. “So we’re not talking about a huge, onerous obligation,” Einsweiler said.

New townhomes would be required to have in-house garage parking facing the rear, not the street. And big surface parking lots would be required to have trees planted on islands among the car, with a current formula of one tree per eight parking spaces.

Gas station restrictions

Work also continues on the future of gas stations. The chains QuikTrip and RaceTrac have been eyeing new locations in the city, officials have said, and a 120-day moratorium on new applications for convenience stores and gas stations is in effect while the new code is written.

One part of the code is simple, Einweiler said: brand new gas stations will be banned.

However, the city would like to give existing gas stations incentive to upgrade or move from locations where redevelopment is desired. So a three-option idea is in discussion, Einsweiler said.

Option one is allow city staff to review plans to upgrade existing gas station sites. Option two would allow existing gas stations to expand onto adjacent properties with City Council permission, and the triggering of the city’s new design standards. Option three is the “cap and trade approach”: if owners shut down an existing gas station, they could open a new one at a different, new location.

The “cap and trade” approach could enable the relocation of gas stations from such areas as the City Springs downtown area, Einsweiler said. In general, under the proposed new zoning, it would mean gas stations could relocate from southern Roswell Road to the corridor’s northern section, an idea that is controversial with some residents.